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Jackets Explained

Sure, it fits. But will your new shell perform? Know your options, and choose with care.

(Illustration by Steve Stankiewicz)
2004 Buyer's Guide : Jackets Explained

 •  We've split up jackets into three breeds: lightweight, midweight, and expedition-strength. Regardless of the flavor you choose, if yours has a hood, you'll want space beneath it for a helmet. A bill that keeps water off eyeglasses is also nice, as is a means to roll that lid away or remove it.

 •  To create a multi-ply waterproof-breathable storm shell, manufacturers spray a DWR (durable water-repellent) finish onto a tough face fabric and laminate it to an open-pore lining that wicks sweat.

 •  A waterproof storm shell also fends off moisture from within. It releases sweat vapor by wicking and venting, usually via pit zips and/or chest vents.

 •  The best cuffs have both elastic gussets and Velcro closures. Set them once; thereafter, shove a hand through and they'll close securely over your wrist.

 •  Welded (not sewn) seams spell a lighter garment that bends with you and is automatically waterproof.

 •  Soft shells are breathable, abrasion- and wind-resistant coats sewn from a blend of elastic fabrics—usually emphasizing stretch-woven nylon. Though excellent for aerobic pursuits like running, most are not fully waterproof.

 •  Many soft shells have a brushed interior or fleece that can be worn directly against the skin or over one lightweight layer.

 •  Soft shells typically save weight by nixing the hood. Those that have 'em are generally heavier, more water-resistant, or both.

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